Tucked among Massey University farmlands in the foothills of the Tararua Range, Tiritea School overlooks Palmerston North.
An antique 1895 purpose-built classroom is at its heart, annexed to newer buildings that congregate around a small courtyard. At the school's feet, the university's leafy Turitea campus sprawls downhill into the city.
Linton Army Camp is nearby, and Tiritea's parents are a roll call of soldiers and academics.
The school's Fitzherbert enrolment zone is relatively affluent, lending the school its high-decile rating.
"Quite a lot of our parents are involved in that campus," says Principal Glenys Edmonds. "Massey, AgResearch, Fonterra . . . so, they have that insight that education is important. We have all these neat things that we can hook into."
The children have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, and a menagerie of furry and feathered friends, too.
Massey's Wildbase and veterinary school are within walking distance, and only last week the school's senior class put two terms of education at Wildbase to the test. The children watched, enthralled, as Oiled Wildlife Response unit technicians scrubbed clean three little blue penguins affected by a diesel spill in Napier Harbour.
One year 6 class's "inquiry" lessons are centred around a UCOL lecturing parent's biology talk on the nutritional requirements of Olympic athletes.
Another class got a visit from a Massey stick insect expert who dropped into the school to share his research. And earlier this year, the entire school took a daytrip to Wellington to see the Zealandia Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.
For teacher Trish Molloy, Tiritea is a far cry from the Pahiatua school she worked at 11 years ago, which was brimming with disadvantage.
"They were coming to school with no food, no shoes, even in winter," she recalls of her pupils. "We had kids not able to learn because they were distracted by hunger."
As an experienced teacher, Molloy struggled to get pupils to achieve the high results she gets at Tiritea.
The Educational Review Office characterises the school "at the cutting edge of education", with strong literacy and numeracy achievement. Tiritea's National Standards report shows between 70 to 80 per cent of pupils are at or above the standards set for maths, reading and writing.
But Tiritea has its struggles. This autumn it was hit by rolling power cuts and had replace its transformer, with a price tag of $8574.
Education Ministry funding cuts for the Reading Recovery programme saw the buck pass to the board of trustees. However, the school found money to open a new classroom in June. A new library and school hall will open next year.
But Molloy is happy to find herself at the head of a classroom full of warmly dressed, well-fed children with brains primed to learn.
"They're ready to learn. They are waiting in the classroom by 8.30am, wanting to learn," she says.
Edmonds sees no logic in comparing Tiritea's results with other schools', especially those where children lack the parent and trustee support her own pupils enjoy.
"You're not comparing like with like, and then you're trying to put them all into one box, into a one-size-fits-all model."
Even her own school's solid results cannot do justice to teachers' or children's efforts, she said. "It's not showing progress. The national standards are not showing progress."
- Manawatu Standard
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